Disney (Wednes)Day: Fantasia

Fantasia is the third animated feature film Disney released and the second one to come out in 1940. This is not your run of the mill animated Disney feature film, au contraire! This is a piece of art and so much more than I expected when I started watching it. To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect from this at all given the length (over 2 hours) and the fact that it does not start with any animation. Also, this post will be a bit different from the format of the previous recaps and those to come, simply because this movie is so different in comparison.

The movie starts with an orchestra tuning their instruments until a man steps onto the stage to explain to the audience what is going on. Fantasia consists of seven parts, different styles of music accompanied by animations the creatives at Disney came up with. I think this is such an interesting concept!

Part 1

It begins with Johann Sebastian Bach’s ‘Toccata and Fugue in D minor’ which is considered absolute music, meaning it isn’t about anything in particular. In the beginning of the piece it is just the orchestra highlighted in different colours until it changes to full blown abstract animation mode. Sometimes you see violin bows popping up or just random colourful circles floating around in nothingness, it’s all pretty awesome and I am blown away by it.

Part 2 is Tchaikovsky’s ‘Nutcracker Suite’ which gives me all the Harry Potter feelings. I wasn’t even aware that I knew so much of the piece but I did and it’s beautiful. Little flying elves are on my screen, dancing around, making nature all the more beautiful and sparkly. And then there are dancing mushrooms, which is easily my favourite kind of mushrooms, omg are they amazing!

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Part 3

Unlike the rest of the concert for this piece, the story came before the music. It’s a very old story about a sorcerer and his apprentice. It stars Mickey Mouse as the apprentice who is eager to learn and practices magic on his own. Unfortunately he doesn’t know how to properly control his spell with which he brought a broomstick to life. This reminds me of the Goethe quote: ‘The spirits that I called’ from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. (As I looked up the line in English I saw that this poem is actually what this part of the movie is based upon so go me for making that connection, ha!). Lol, hacking the broom to pieces only made the problem so much worse, poor Mickey.

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Part 4 is Igor Stravinsky’s ‘The Rite of Spring’ which is interpreted here in the way science believes the growth of life on earth happened. (As this is 1940s USA I can’t help but say: Take this 21st century America. Moving on.) We’re shown pretty much everything from the beginning of this planet’s existence, we so dearly call home. There are exploding volcanoes, hot lava is everywhere until storms arise before we get to the first single cell organisms in the water.

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They roam the earth’s water and grow and turn into more and different species until the dinosaurs turn up. It’s funny how Disney-esque the music feels even though it wasn’t created for this purpose and the pictures we see just match it so beautifully. There are even cute baby dinos until the Godzilla of dinosaurs appears and everyone flees. I’m assuming that’s T-Rex, I never was that into dinosaurs as a kid so I’m sorry if this is wrong. Only one of the dino’s is willing to fight T-Rex, unfortunately he loses and gets killed. Well, this blows. Then the climate changes where the dinos are shown next, it’s hot and dry like in the Sahara, so unlike the water-y places the dinos were before. They’re suffering and slowly dying one by one until they are extinct. It’s actually really sad to watch. The last part of this piece is earthquakes and tsunamis raking over the earth.

Before the concert continues, the narrator tells us that we get a 15 minute intermission break which sounds hilarious to me, because this is a movie and not a concert but it’s apparently supposed to feel like a concert. God I love this thing. The ensemble leaves the stage, the curtain gets closed only to be opened again mere moments later. The stage fills again with the musicians and they start to tune their instruments again.

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The next bit is actually funny as the narrator introduces us to someone he met at Disney studios, the soundtrack which is represented by a single vertical line that swings in different ways, depending on what we’re hearing. This looks a lot like the Windows Media Player visualisations (not sure if they still exist, but you probably know what I mean).

Part 5

Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral’ symphony is upon us, it’s supposed to represent a day in the country which I can easily imagine whilst listening to the music. However the animation that goes with it, is a bit different. It gives this piece a mythological setting on Mount Olympus, the abode of the gods. I didn’t realise that unicorns are of greek mythological origin but I’ll roll with it.

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I actually don’t care too much for this part, it’ too cheesy and over the top and just not my cup of tea, I’m sorry. Mythology is nice on it’s own but in this romanticised Disney setting it’s neither here nor there. There is centaur matchmaking going on.

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I cannot see this happening in 21st century America, because there are half naked half-men/women-half-horse people walking around and naked babies flying around. It would have been kinda awesome if they matched two male centaurs with another but of course that’s just wishful thinking. I’m not sad this part is over and we move on to the next bit.

Part 6 features Pnchielli’s opera ‘La Gioconda’. The animation is hilarious as it starts with dancing ostriches. Again, it’s funny, I do know this piece of music, just didn’t know the name or composer. From the ostriches we move on to dancing hippos which is even more hilarious until we get dancing elephants. So many awesome animals and this is just heaps better than part 5 in my humble opinion.

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The last part is a mix of two musical pieces actually; ‘A night on Bald Mountain’ by russian composer Modeste Moussorgsky and Franz Schubert’s ‘Ave Maria’. For the most part this is rather dark and somber, even with the commentary the narrator supplied, I hardly get it. Are those dead spirits arisen from the dead and summoned by the big bad? Idk. It ends with a procession of light accompanied by the beautiful yet heartbreaking Ave Maria.

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I probably did an awful job conveying how amazing this movie is. Throughout it I wondered why we never covered it in school; instead I had to sit through West Side Story in music class and analyse it whereas this would have been far more interesting to study. Fantasia is not a movie you can watch like Aladdin or Snow White but it’s quite genius in itself. The only talking throughout the two hour movie comes from the narrator who delivers the basic knowledge the audience needs to know to understand what’s going on. Other than that, it shows rather than tells us the different stories through music and pictures. Disney in general (from what I can tell by now) likes to show rather than tell and that’s just the form of the medium but this one is a whole new ballpark.

I’ve been to quite a few classical music concerts thanks to bestfriendboy being a classical musician and all, which is why I admire this attempt to bring a concert into the homes of everyday people, people that would otherwise never go to see a concert with such music.

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  • Tim

    Oh my god I love Fantasia. The music from the movie has long been my favorite part of the movie. That said, I’m pretty sure I broke our VHS copy of the film from watching it over and over as a kid.

    • Wilhelmina Upton

      It is a pretty genius movie and the music selection is really great. Past!You already had great taste.

  • EmilyHornburg

    I haven’t seen Fantasia in FOREVER but it really is so good! I really liked Fantasia 2000 as well. I hope they make another one eventually! There’s so much you can do with this concept and they could create even more little stories and characters. Especially today when people love YouTube series and such. There’s a big market for short stories/videos now. If they could find a way to do another Fantasia like that… it would be awesome.

    • Wilhelmina Upton

      Very true, I didn’t even think of Youtube as a market but you’re right. They could do a lot with it.
      This is just such an interesting concept and I’m already looking forward to Fantasia 2000.

  • Lucy Victoria

    Oh wow, Fantasia. This brings back nostalgic memories. It’s fantastic; I still watch every now and again!
    http://lifeinsidethelocket.blogspot.com

    • Wilhelmina Upton

      That’s great, I will definitely come back to this movie and watch it again (once I watched all the other Disney movies of course)